A group of elderly people sit in comfy chairs while band players stand behinf them, wearing smart blue uniforms and smiling

Getting out of the band room

Funding from the Frieda Scott Trust has galvanised group of us brass players to get out of the band room and take brass to the people.

As always, with community projects, we have learnt a huge amount along this journey. Like the fact that Kirkby Stephen no longer has taxis that can take wheelchairs. That means that many elderly and/or disabled people are confined to their homes, or care homes, and cannot take any part in their community.

How’s that for social isolation?


My Community, Penrith

We have been working with Cristina Bowman at My Community in Penrith for some time now. Cristina has been signposting people to try a Brass Inc. taster session at Blue Jam Arts in Penrith and many of those people have since joined our  music group. People are surprised at simply being allowed to have a go on an instrument. I’ve heard “I didn’t know you could just give it try” so regularly.  And I have realised for myself that”disability” is a social issue of presumption and expectation, with little basis in reality. The sob story here is that there is a large cohort of people in our society who are having to prove themselves again and again, in order to take advantage of their basic rights: companionship, creativity, wellbeing. The more I encounter people with different abilities the better though, and the better-prepared I can be.

Yesterday for instance a sight-impaired adult joined us, with his carer. And gave me so much to think about that I should have just known. Like clearing an easy passageway through a space cluttered with bags and chairs and instruments, like deciding how to deal with the sheet music that was (as so often!) tiny and how to come to a group agreement on what volume to play at when he produced a super-exuberant sound on his trombone.

All this stuff helps everyone and should be automatic. But because society keeps us apart – because it’s cheaper and easier – we have to re-invent the obvious.

And that learning helped later the same day, when my colleague Kath and I helped a woman with social and emotional difficulties to play her first – very successful – notes from a baritone.  She would not describe herself as disadvantaged I’m sure, and it feels like a betrayal of her trust to label her thus. So I don’t give any more details here about her, but give her as another example of the perception that there are people who won’t be able to play an instrument, or “join in” properly, or who might not know the “rules.

I often use the travel metaphor to describe learning music – it is a long journey for sure. The start is exciting and then there’s a long stretch where nothing seems to happen. That’s where most people drop out. That is where Drum and Brass works the hardest. Picking apart the processes of understanding notes and rhythms, holding and using the instrument and hearing the music take form, we have become able to support players through that hard part of the journey. Slowing the process down and not assuming anything, providing support of other players and useful materials just helps more people on the journey and the outcomes benefit everyone, not least an overstretched NHS I dare say.

So thanks Frieda Scott. This project is making people laugh with the pure joy at being able to produce sound out of an instrument- and there’s no better feeling for me! My eyes open wider every day and I look forward to the next taster sessions which is on 25th November at Kirkby Stephen Youth Club with the amazing Caitlin.

Brass Inc. takes place at Blue Jam Arts every Thursday at 1.30 pm and is an inclusive music group in its own right.